Time for summerbatical


After three semesters of fully remote work, I feel like I really could use a sabbatical. I imagine a lot of you feel the same.

Being able to have a sabbatical is kind of quite a professional perk, but I’m not yet eligible to apply for another sabbatical, as I was on sabbatical during 2016-2017. (How did I spend that sabbatical, you might ask? Here you go.)

But I have the next best thing: a combination of tenure and spending this summer off contract. No employer can expect anything of me until mid-August? That’s not so bad, eh?

This means I get to focus on the things that I want to do. Which is cliché and tragic but also true, is that I get to focus on some work. I have a few manuscripts that are tremendous sources of both excitement and guilt and I have an emotional need to get back to them. And there’s a proposal I want to work on. And I’d like to travel and spend time in nature with relatively few people, and sleep in, and a very talk stack of novels awaits me. And, I hope plenty of time on a porch with friends getting caught up in person, because now that’s a thing that is pretty much safe again in my highly privileged corner of the world. And I would like ever so much to stock up my backpack and head for the woods, and there isn’t nearly as much stopping me from that now.

Another reason I’m really feeling like a summerbatical is that this is my last summer off contract for a while. I’ve mentioned this on social media, but not on here — I’m moving on to a new position, sort of, in the Fall. I’m going to become the Director of the California Desert Studies Consortium. This organization primarily and most notably runs a substantial field station at Zzyzx in the Mojave desert (the Desert Studies Center). As an experienced user and advocate and fanboy of field stations, this position is exciting for a lot of reasons. I imagine you’ll be hearing more about this in the coming months and years if you keep reading here and if I keep writing here.

This new role is technically not a new job for me, it’s just a reassignment of my continuing professorial duties at CSU Dominguez Hills in a 12-month position. I’ll have the same office and the same research lab. I’m ramping my lab back up with a couple undergrad students, a grad student, and even a postdoc! So I’m really excited for the Fall for a bunch of reasons. Since I’ll be very busy running this consortium, I’m setting a limit on ambitions for my lab, because there are other people and things that will be taking priority.

This means that I’m stepping away from the classroom, as well. I have missed teaching over the past few years while my teaching load has been reassigned to serve as director of undergraduate research on campus (though admittedly missing the online pivot was a grace that came with a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt). As I’ve been doing interviews and virtual speaking engagements associated with my new book about teaching, I’m reminded about how I miss the regular kind of interactions that build over a whole semester. Working with students in the lab is great, but it’s not exactly the same as teaching a class, and I chose this avenue because I liked teaching, right? So why did I take this new job which means no teaching? Because this job sounds fun, too, and it’s a new challenge, and I think it might be a good alignment between my skillset and the needs of others. You know that Venn diagram about what you enjoy and what you’re good at and what pays and what meets the needs of others or something like that? I think this might move into that middle space? If not, we’ll find out soon enough.

This pandemic has been a supremely weird melange of apparent successes and failures and losses and gains. I’ve lost people close to me and my family, some sudden and others slowly but inevitably developing. I’ve pretty much not published a scientific paper since this has all started, and all this while my domestic situation is arguably on the low difficulty setting, together at home with my spouse where we both have had a reliable remote work, good working space, fast enough internet, and a high-school student who’s been at an age where you can expect them to be quite independent while schooling from home well. I’ve had a nice yarden at home where I’ve had a respite in nature when I haven’t been able to get out. You’d think that I should be navigating all of this well, but I just haven’t been. Nonetheless, I could paint a portrait of my career that presents the past year as a series of unqualified successes: I published my first book and it’s doing quite well! I was selected as a fellow for the Earth Leadership Program! I got the biggest university-wide Outstanding Professor award from my campus! And even though I haven’t even submitted a proposal in the past year, a postdoc will be joining my lab next year because they got funding from a NSF PRFB and want to work at CSUDH and with me! And apparently being at home 24/7 has made being healthful easier and I’ve lost 3 stone, which is a good start. But I still feel this whole past year has been a loss because I simply haven’t done the science I wanted to get done, and I’ve experienced so many roadblocks in supporting the programs and people that I’ve been working for. You know that picture about the iceberg and the successes above water and the bad stuff underwater? I’ve got a lot underwater.

I’m looking forward to some new beginnings. Hopefully this summerbatical is just what I need. I hope my fellow Northern Hemisphere folks have a restorative summer, and that y’all on the other side make the most of the sweater weather.

One thought on “Time for summerbatical

  1. Thanks for sharing Terry. I feel the same way and I’ll be doing the exact same things over the summer. By sheer coincidence, I’ll actually be on sabattical in the Fall, and so I’ll be extending my time and efforts at recuperating and rejuvinating. I find that I’m experiencing a profound exhaustion with teaching right now at the same time that I still deeply value the experience. Perhaps most strangely, I frequently find myself wondering why I need a break from teaching, and having to remind myself of the unique difficulties of the last year and half. Recently, I read a research paper demonstrating that stress interferes with memory production. And I’m starting to feel that the massive reduction in my ability to produced detailed daily memories that began in graduate school, and my sudden inability to recall the unique stresses of the last year might have something in common.

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